The Demise of 'Mr. 1948' - and an Entire Generation

Doron Rosenblum bids farewell to songwriter Haim Hefer, whose copious body of work encapsulated the spirit of the early sabra.

The report about Haim Hefer's death at the age of 86 was one of those news items you worry about coming across in a newspaper or the Internet for a decade, or longer. You know that time passes, that he was an old, very old, man, yet nevertheless he was Haim Hefer. The day finally came.

There are among us some such elderly folks who in several respects - excluding the biological angle - can survive for eternity. Homage can be paid to their work; they can provide good filler for some newspaper holiday edition on some anniversary; they can give an interview to some tabloid and heedlessly articulate scandalous views, and make light-hearted remarks about aging and death itself; and then they return to the limbo land of consciousness.

They remain in limbo until the next holiday or anniversary. It's always good to know that they are still around, in the background: They are getting on in years, and yet they manage to hang on to some shred of lucidity; they serve as a strong generational buffer between ourselves and pre-Israeliness.

Haim Hefer not only belonged to the Palmach generation: he was the quintessential "Mr. Palmach," and "Mr. 1948." It was virtually impossible to approach that generation without using him as a filter: his songs, the wide swath of his connections within that era's establishment, entertainment world and army, his activism as part of the Palmach heritage, the well-oiled nostalgia industry which he managed together with his comrade Dahn Ben Amotz (another "sabra" who happened to have been born in Poland ). He was the man who organized conferences, initiated meetings with IDF chiefs of staff, or who called you on the phone to recruit you for a tour with "Stef" (Wertheimer ) in the Galilee, not in a car but by helicopter.

Alongside the invention of a rhymed-prose maqama journalistic genre, Hefer left a rich heritage of songs. Some of them are routinely adapted in foreign melodies, some of them were satirical when they were released (such as "The Aunt from Hadera" ), some of them ("Rosa, Rosa" ) are no less frivolous than the Mizrahi songs he subsequently berated. Yet the finest tunes, written in collaboration with Israel's finest composers, from Dor Zahavi to Sasha Argov, were truly great. Their simple, Israeli, lyrical composition became part of our collective linguistic DNA. Perhaps the strongest proof of the value of his songs was the fact that by the first or second decade of Israel's existence, they were already considered vintage, classic works. From the early years of my childhood I still remember a booklet called "Light Ammunition" that included lyrics and notes from his songs; even at this early date, the pages were frayed and yellow, and the songs, such as "Such a Meeting," seemed alive, preserved and ancient no less than the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Hefer's most famous song, "The Palmachnik Looks for Tomorrow," turned out to be his most ironic. Hefer and members of his generation were supposed to have been the first Israelis who carried the state on their shoulders. Instead of this, for decade after decade, the state was carried on the shoulders of politicians, elders from Mapai, Herut and the National Religious Party, and by their indistinguishable descendants. To some extent, and for better or for worse, the 1948 generation remained frozen in eternal youth. As Hefer and his comrades grew old, they looked mainly for yesterday.